Fairfield Partition Lawyers

Fairfield is a city located in the northeastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area in Solano County, California. Fairfield was founded in 1856 by Robert Waterman, a clipper-ship captain who had bought the grant in 1850, named the city for his hometown in Connecticut, and donated 16 acres for new county buildings and in 1860 a brick county courthouse and jail when voters moved the county seat from Benicia to Fairfield in 1858. In 1942, Travis Air Force Base was built east of Fairfield providing a tremendous boost to the local economy, which continues today. Major employers include Travis Air Force Base, County of Solano, Solano Town Center, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and Jelly Belly Candy Company. When problems with joint ownership arise, then people who live and work in Fairfield may reach out to an experienced Fairfield Partition Lawyer to solve the problem, and divide their interests through a forced sale of property.

Generally, Fairfield Partition Attorneys usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing joint owners in four broad categories:

  • Parent-Child shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Brother-Sister shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Investor-Investor shared tenants in common in real estate; and
  • Significant others shared tenants in common in real estate;
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition action is an action brought by a co-owner of a piece of real property against another co-owner, seeking to divide the property according to the respective interests of the co-owners. In order to establish a right to a partition, a party must show that they have some ownership interest in the subject property. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 872.210, any owner of an estate of inheritance, an estate for life, or an estate for years in real property where such property or estate is owned by several persons concurrently or in successive estates may bring a partition action. (CCP § 872.210.) Therefore, a co-tenant has an absolute right to partition. (Formosa Corp. v. Rogers (1951), 108 Cal.App.2d 397.) At the Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with partition actions and the step-by-step process of pursuing a partition.

Generally, a partition action cannot be stopped absent a valid waiver. Virtually universally, the instances in which a court has found a valid waiver have involved some sort of written contract or adverse possession of property. As such, many parties try to stop a partition action through mediation, or a buy-out agreement. In most instances, the parties to a partition action can benefit from creative lawyering by those who are familiar with the different options for resolving real estate disputes. The best Fairfield Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Broadly, a partition action has only relatively simple steps. First, a party files a lawsuit to establish their rights to the property and desire to sell the property. Second, the court determines that the property should be sold, and appoints an appraiser to appraise the property and offer the other owner the opportunity to buy out the interest. Third, if the other fails to do so, then the Court appoints a “partition referee” (who is frequently a licensed Realtor) to sell the property, and they market and sell the property and deposits the proceeds into a trust account. Fourth, the court determines how much each party should receive from the proceeds, which should include addressing offsets and claims for contribution in an “accounting.” A top Fairfield Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced Fairfield Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

Can You Recover Attorneys’ Fees in a Partition Action?

Code of Civil Procedure, section 874.010 states that “[t]he costs of partition include: (a) [r]easonable attorney’s fees incurred or paid by a party for the common benefit.” Interestingly, the costs of partition can also include reasonable expenses necessarily incurred by a party for the common benefit in prosecuting or defending other actions or proceedings for the protection, confirmation, or perfection of title, setting the boundaries, or making a survey of the property. (CCP § 874.020.)

That attorney’s fees are considered “costs” associated with a partition action is important because Section 874.040 goes on to state the “court shall apportion the costs of partition among the parties in proportion to their interests or make such other apportionment as may be equitable.” A knowledgeable Fairfield Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

A Partition Case Study: Jamison v. McNeal

To protect one’s property interests, a property owner may feel tempted to resort to “self-help” or independent acts unadvised by legal counsel. However, in the context of partition actions, courts often look unfavorably upon such self-help. Whether a property owner involved in a partition action prevails at the end of the day can depend on different factors, including an owner’s criminal or dishonest conduct toward other legitimate owners of the property prior to the lawsuit. The following paragraphs discuss how such circumstances affected the outcome of Jamison v. McNeal. (2022 WL 1438863)

In 2005, Ms. Jamison and Mr. McNeal purchased a single-family home together and took title as joint tenants, with each owning an undivided one-half interest in the property. Although Ms. Jamison and Mr. McNeal never married, they had lived together since 1992 and had two children. According to Ms. Jamison, she and Mr. McNeal had originally purchased the property to own their home and for the children's future inheritance. Jamison, McNeal, and their children lived together on the property until May 2011, at which point Jamison stopped living on the property. McNeal continued living on the property with one of their children.

Initially, the parties had agreed that after the first two years, McNeal would make monthly payments associated with the first mortgage and Jamison would make monthly payments associated with the second mortgage. Jamison made all her payments from 2005 until she left the property in mid-2011. However, house expenses incurred after she left were paid by McNeal, much to his discontent.

At this point, Mr. McNeal decided to take matters into his own hands. In 2012, about one year after Jamison left the property, McNeal recorded with Solano County a forged quitclaim deed, by which Jamison purportedly transferred her entire interest in the property to McNeal. Later in 2014, McNeal secured modifications of the mortgages via loan modification agreement by representing to a bank that Jamison was a co-owner of the property and forging Jamison's signature on the loan application. These acts were unadvised and performed on McNeal’s own prerogative.

Although Ms. Jamison no longer resided on the property, she eventually became aware of Mr. McNeal’s forgeries. She contacted the Real Estate Fraud unit of the Solano County District Attorney twice, once after she learned she had been removed from the property title by the forged quitclaim deed and again after she learned that the loan modification agreement had been secured based on an application that contained her forged signature.

In 2015, the Solano County District Attorney filed an amended felony complaint charging Mr. McNeal with several offenses, including forgery of the quitclaim deed (Pen. Code, § 470, subd. (c)) and forgery related to the loan modification agreement (id., subd. (d)). Later in 2016, McNeal agreed to and pleaded no contest to the felony offense of forging the loan modification agreement, and the remaining charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Pursuant to the plea agreement, McNeal also acknowledged he had arranged for Jamison's forged signature on the quitclaim deed and agreed to the issuance of a court order declaring the forged deed void and cancelled as of the date it was signed. This court order was recorded on March 7, 2017.

After these events, in July 2017, about six years after she had left the property, Ms. Jamison brought a partition action against Mr. McNeal seeking partition of the property by sale and a division of the sale proceeds between the parties. In response, McNeal challenged the request for partition, claimed title by adverse possession, sought to quiet title, and requested monetary damages for breach for contract. McNeal argued against the partition by alleging that the parties’ children would be negatively affected by the requested partition. McNeal also alleged that he was entitled to sole ownership of the property under a claim of adverse possession, that he was owed contributions from Jamison for various improvements valued at approximately $180,000, and that Jamison had breached the parties’ verbal agreement requiring monthly mortgage payments that had been paid for by McNeal since Jamison had left the property. Before trial, each party asked the court to deny the relief requested by the other under the doctrine of unclean hands, which bars recovery in certain situations where the party seeking relief has acted in bad faith or engaged in inequitable conduct.

At trial, the Court noted that Mr. McNeal’s forging of Ms. Jamison's name on the quitclaim deed was not only unconscionable and inequitable, but also felonious. The Court held that McNeal's forgery constituted an “ouster” (the wrongful dispossession or exclusion of someone from property). Since McNeal engaged in wrongful conduct by forging Jamison’s signature, the Court denied all of the relief requested by McNeal under the doctrine of unclean hands. The Court held that the doctrine of unclean hands extinguished McNeal's claims to (1) any and all damages, including expenditures, both capital and labor related; (2) payments of principal and interest on the mortgage of any lien; (3) payments of insurance for the common benefit, protection, and preservation of title; and (4) payments for any repairs or improvements that were made to the property.

After the trial court issued a judgement in favor of Ms. Jamison and granted her request for partition of the property, Mr. McNeal appealed to the California First District Court of Appeal. On appeal, McNeal argued that Jamison had no equitable interest in the property because her joint tenancy interest had been severed voluntarily when she purportedly abandoned the property and failed to make mortgage payments. The Court of Appeal flatly rejected McNeal’s argument. The First District Court of Appeal noted that the trial court had already determined that Jamison was a joint tenant, holding legal title to the property, who had not waived her right to partition. The Court reasoned that because Jamison was an undisputed owner of a concurrent interest in the property and had not waived her right to partition, she was entitled to partition as a matter of absolute right, and her title in fee could not be divested by abandonment. The Court affirmed the lower court’s judgement and awarded costs on appeal to Jamison.

Learn more here.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As we’ve seen, whether a party bringing a partition action ultimately prevails can depend on many different factors, including the parties’ actual ownership interests, each side’s contractual rights with respect to the real property sought to be partitioned, as well as prior final judgements. The valid assertion of certain contractual rights, such as the right of first refusal, as well as prior court judgements, may potentially shape the outcome of a partition action.

As there are many different ways to waive the right of partition, and you are considering it as an option, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. If you find yourself contemplating a partition action, or faced with defending one, then please contact the Underwood Law Firm for an initial consultation.

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